Each year on Valentine’s Day I always think about Volkswagens. I know it’s strange but it’s because of two special people who met underneath a brand new 1962 VW bug. I guess I should start at the beginning.
Volkswagen’s motto was, Think Small, so she did. My aunt bought a gulf blue, Volkswagen Beetle for about fifteen hundred dollars. It was 1962 and she was seventeen years old.
Her dad said she couldn’t leave the street the first day until he was sure she could shift properly. So she practiced driving up and down our street. Starting, shifting and stopping became easier and easier. In no time, she was a professional at shifting.
She had the radio on full blast singing to the Beatles, “Twist and Shout,” when she decided turning the car around was too much work. She put it in reverse and hit the gas. Bump, bump.
She stopped the car wondering about the bump, bump. She was ready to put it back in gear and keep going when she thought maybe she should get out and take a look. Something wasn’t right. She opened the door and climbed out. There was nothing on the driver’s side. When she reached back into the car to turn down the radio, she heard a moan.
She ran to the back of the car and slowly walked around to the passenger side where she found a bent and broken bicycle, a spilled newspaper sack and the paperboy with his legs underneath her car! Good thing she stopped when she did because if she had kept backing up, she would have run over the paperboy again.
She wasn’t sure what to do, but by then the neighbors came running out to help.
Mr. Henderson, her neighbor, saw what happened and started yelling at how irresponsible she had been with her little stunt of driving backwards. My aunt remembers feeling so confused with Mr. Henderson yelling, everyone talking excitedly and the poor paperboy moaning that she didn’t know what to do.
My aunt watched helplessly as they picked up the young man and put him in someone’s car to take him to the hospital. By then, her dad came and drove her car back to the house. My aunt said she noticed that her dad didn’t think it was too much work to turn the car around and drive forward like we are supposed to.
She walked slowly to our house believing she was in trouble. My aunt thought her dad would probably kill her for doing something so stupid. He didn’t. He just opened the door on the passenger side of his car and told her to get in. They passed the broken bike still in the street and drove to the hospital where the paperboy had been admitted. He bumped his head on the street when he fell and his leg was broken where she ran over him.
Her dad made her go visit every day that Peter Wright was in the hospital. My aunt thought he was good looking with his huge brown eyes and longish dark hair. By then she learned he was eighteen years old. Everyone thought it was really funny that they met because she ran over him. On one of her visits, she learned he had been drafted into the Army and was going to Vietnam as soon as his broken leg healed.
She thought they fell in love so quickly because they knew he was leaving right away. They wanted to get married before he left, but their parents made them wait. It was so hard for her to watch him go.
My aunt received only four beloved letters from Pete before he was reported as missing in action. Her heart was broken. She concentrated on college and tried not to think about what happened to Pete.
Eventually, she met and married, Billy Sinclair. He knew she had lost her first love in Vietnam and understood. He was a gentle and caring man. They had three children and a total of five grandchildren. Sweet Billy passed away in 1989 after a five-year battle with cancer.
Valentine’s Day 1995, my aunt’s four-year-old granddaughter, Kelsie came to visit at her apartment. While she cleaned out her closet, Kelsie played outside in the enclosed garden.
My aunt found the four letters from Pete and smiled fondly at the memory while opening one at a time thinking of her lost love thirty-three years ago.
Kelsie loved the flowers growing in the courtyard and was always bringing her grandma what she would pick. On that day she handed my aunt a white rose and said, “Flower power, Grandma.”
“Where did you hear that?” my aunt asked wondering how Kelsie picked a rose with thorns and she was trying not to laugh at her granddaughter using that old expression.
“From the old man with one leg sitting in the courtyard,” Kelsie replied sounding so serious.
My aunt wasn’t too sure about Kelsie playing where there might be a strange man so she hurried out to the courtyard with Kelsie.
There sat a man in a wheelchair with only one leg just as Kelsie had described and he had a few white roses lying across his lap.
“Excuse me, sir; do you live in these apartments?” My aunt asked bluntly.
“I do, I moved into apartment 204 on the other side. You have a very nice granddaughter.” The sound of his gravelly voice didn’t sound familiar but there was something in his huge brown eyes that stopped her in her tracks.
He tilted his head strangely, looking at her as if he too was confused.
Her stomach felt as if a butterfly had become trapped in it. “Do I know you?”
“Penny? Is your name, Penny? It’s me, Peter Wright!”
Eyes filling with tears, her shaking hand flew to her mouth in disbelief. After all those years, she didn’t know what to say. Pete took her hands and held them warmly to comfort her in her shock.
“Sit here, Penny, with me and Kelsie.”
Pete pulled her down onto the bench next to her granddaughter. He was so strong and confident, calming both of them at the same time when Kelsie looked stricken at her grandmother’s tears.
“Your grandma and I were friends many years ago.”
“What happened? Your letters stopped. I didn’t know…”
Pete and Penny talked, catching up on the lost years.
She invited him into her apartment and immediately her eyes fell on the letters thinking what a strange coincidence and showed them to Pete.
Pete admitted thinking of her was what kept him going during the long years when he was captured and lost his leg through infection. When he finally returned home to find that she had married, he was devastated.
Penny confessed he had been the love of her life and told him of her lonely college years in mourning.
Valentine’s Day 2014 will be eighteen years since Penny and Pete each married the love of their life. Isn’t it strange how love finds a way? I hope you have a wonderful, loving Valentine’s this year.